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God is in the Business of Making a People for Himself

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

More Questions Than Answers:[1]

I went to seminary for two main reasons. Growing up as a second generation immigrant and coming to faith during my teenage years, I had never heard anything remotely close to the idea of seminary. My understanding of pastoral training was solely linked to my denominational school located in Saint Bonifacius, MN—Crown College. After graduation, by God's grace, I had the privilege of pastoring in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. With the rise of YouTube and social media, I quickly ran into a fiery Baptist preacher named John Piper; reason number one.


Let me explain.


When I started to listen to Piper I became fascinated with his ability to handle the text and proclaim Truth. His exegetical prowess and intellectual precision had me questioning my own theological groundings. As a young pastor and preacher I began to say, "I want to do that!"


The second reason for seminary had to do with questions that were being unearthed in respects to my vocational experience. I began to feel tension with my local church ministry and, consequently, the Gospel I had encountered within the Scriptures. As the weeks became months and eventually years, the questions piled up amid the rigors of full time ministry and a growing family. One question—amongst others—was: "What is the Purpose of the Church?"


Biblical Theology. One of the joys of seminary was learning about the discipline of biblical theology. Simply put, it was the art and science of tracing themes throughout the storyline of Scripture. This discipline has the potential of helping one find textual gems to better understand the plot line of God's salvific purpose in redemptive history. "Biblical theology," according to Graeme Goldsworthy, "is not concerned to state the final doctrines which go to make up the content of Christian belief, but rather to describe the process by which revelation unfolds and moves toward the goal which is God's final revelation of His purposes in Jesus Christ. Biblical theology seeks to understand the relationships between the various eras in God's revealing activity recorded in the Bible."[2] Thus, the themes and motifs found throughout Scripture (the character of God; the people of God; atonement; etc.) shape our doctrine which inform the expression of practical application, i.e., systematic theology, in the life of the church.


The People of God:


The main question I kept asking, then, was: What is the purpose of the church? Why did God create the church? I was persuaded that once I was able to grasp the answer through a canonical scope, I would be convinced and, thus, convicted in pastoring His people toward that purpose. But what was that answer? At this point in my pastoral career, I was becoming pretty good at deconstructing the current state of the local church, but, unfortunately, I was not quite skilled in the guise of reconstructing a biblical response. Yet, by God's grace, those themes began to crystalize amid my rigorous study of the biblical text.  The Old Testament, which was once boring and tedious, began to make sense in light of the Christo-centric aim. Thus, the idea of the "people of God" began to be a reoccurring concept that resonated within my progression toward understanding God's means in redeeming the world back to Himself. 


Imago Dei. A particular motto, then, began to flush itself out as I started to read and teach consistently on this matter: God is in the business of making a people for Himself. This became evident from the very beginning of Scripture. The mandate given to Adam and Eve was to "[be] fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). The decree to multiply assumes that they were to fill the earth and create a people for God; a command that was given prior to the Fall. Thus, this notion of multiplication is intrinsically linked to the ontological make-up of Adam and Eve. Meaning, the multiplication mandate derives from the reality that humanity is created "in the image of God" (Gen. 1:27). Hence, God wanted His glory to multiply, quantitatively, across the face of the earth. "Metaphorically," says G. K. Beale, "humanity is a small picture file in the terabytes of God's glory in creation."[3] It is evident, then, that prior to the Fall, God sought to establish a people for His kingdom.


Abrahamic Covenant. Consequently, the messianic seed, which would descend from Eve herself, proceeded genealogically in contrast to the seed of the serpent (cf. Gen. 3:15).  From the time of the Fall to the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant, the descendants of the serpent sought to destroy and devour the lineage of the woman. From the killing of Abel to the worldwide flood to the Tower of Babel, the battle of the "seeds" was apparently clear. Hence, it is within this context that the reader finds Abram, the father of many nations. Robin Routledge makes the point that "[the] call of Abraham in Genesis 12 marks a significant turning point: it opens the way for the nations, on whom God's judgement had just fallen (Babel), ultimately to receive His blessing."[4] God contends, then, that He "will make you a great nation, and [He] will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2). The implication of "nation" is that God, through the means of Abraham, will establish a people for Himself to bring forth His redemptive purpose through the seed of the woman. Thomas R. Schreiner infers that "[the] promises made to Abraham were the means by which God would undo the devastation wrought by Adam and would bring in His kingdom. . . The promise that God would make 'a great nation' from Abraham signifies the promise of the kingdom."[5]


Consequently, God is in the business of making a people for Himself. 


Mosaic Covenant. Through God's providence, Joseph made his way into Egypt, first, as a slave and, then, as one who would become second in command. In retrospect, he was able to see that though "you meant evil against me, . . God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Gen. 50:20). In Egypt the nation of Israel would multiply (Ex. 1:6); so much so that "the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves" (Ex. 1:13-14). In God's faithfulness, though, He rescues the nation of Israel out of Egypt through His servant Moses. 


Upon their voyage toward freedom, God would establish His people upon the foundation of His covenantal decree. Through His commandments, God was creating a theocracy. Meaning, the enslaved people would immediately become a nation governed by His reign and rule. The Decalogue, i.e., the Ten Commandments, and, ultimately, the Torah was given to guide the nation in living as the people of God. They, simultaneously, were set apart from the nations in order to reach the nations in retrospect to the Abrahamic Covenant.  Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum characterizes the nation of Israel by saying,

As a kingdom of priests, they will function to make the ways of God known to the nations and also to bring the nations into a right relationship to God. Israel will display to the rest of the world within its covenant community the kind of relationships first to God and then to one another and to the physical world, that God intended originally for all of humanity. In fact, through Abraham's family, God purposes and plans to bring blessing to all the nations of the world. In this way, through the family of Abraham, through Israel, His last Adam, He will bring about a resolution of the sin and death caused by the first Adam. Since Israel is located geographically on the one and only communications link between the great superpowers of the ancient world (Egypt and Mesopotamia), in this position she will show the nations how to have a right relationship to God, how to treat each other in a truly human way, and how to faithfully steward the earth's resources. This is the meaning of Israel's sonship.[6]

God carries the seed of the woman through the descendants of Abraham into the nation of Israel. Hence, God is in the business of making a people for Himself.


Davidic Covenant. In the midst of the Fall, God calls forth a beacon of hope through the seed of the woman (cf. Gen. 3:15; protoeuangelion). Similarly, He calls Abraham out from paganism to carry the seed which would sprout into the nation of Israel; a people marked for His namesake. Through His servant David, God solidifies a kingdom—a people of God—by establishing the throne which the greater David would possess.


The error of Israel, according to Gentry and Wellum, "was not, then, in wanting a king. It was in wanting one like the nations."[7] Regardless, the covenantal Lord maneuvered to fulfill His redemptive plan. God establishes a covenant with David in which "your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever" (2 Sam. 7:16). Meaning, the covenantal Lord cemented the kingship in the line of David to which His reign and rule will abound for eternity. This kingdom will be composed of a people whose imprint will be marked by the covenantal Lord. The reign, rule, and purposes will be to bring forth God's telos; mainly to magnify His glory in redeeming the world back to Himself.


Thus, God carries the seed of the woman through the descendants of Abraham into the nation of Israel. Consequently, the covenantal Lord solidifies the kingdom by establishing the Davidic covenant which the seed would come to possess in His prophetic reign and rule. To this end, God is in the business of making a people for Himself.


New Covenant—The Church. The personification of God's promised seed was grounded in the man from Nazareth. His work on the cross and power through the resurrection inaugurated the new age in which the Spirit would rest upon His people (cf. Ezek. 36:26-27; Jer. 31:33; Acts 2:1-11). The prophetic proposal was realized in the historical event of Pentecost where the church was given birth (Acts 2). As Peter proclaimed the Gospel "those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). The Word, then, is the originator of the church.[8] The church is the conduit to which the Word, the Gospel of Christ, would be preached, because "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). Mark Dever rightfully adds that "God is granting a new beginning, a new creation through Christ, in which the people of God increasingly conform to the kingdom or rule of God."[9] The establishment of the church, then, is to carry the Gospel message through the heralding of the Word and, in turn, establish disciple-making people (Matt. 28:18-20). Gregg R. Allison fittingly says, "The givenness and logocentricity of the ministry mean that the church must preach the Word of God—'without confusion, without change,' without compromise—as its first order of business."[10]


Retrospectively, God carries the seed of the woman through the descendants of Abraham into the nation of Israel. Consequently, the covenantal Lord solidifies the kingdom by establishing the Davidic covenant which the seed would come to possess in His prophetic reign and rule. The establishment of the church, then, is the vehicle to which the message of the Gospel is pressed forward by inviting persons into the kingdom of God through Christ Jesus. Hence, the church is called to champion the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.


To this end, God is in the business of making a people for Himself. 


The Aim of the Church:


The nation of Israel was the conduit to which God would use to bring forth His redemptive aim through the seed of the woman. The New Testament church, likewise, is the agent in carrying forth the finished work of the Seed; the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


As the people of God, the church's call is to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel. To be "[a] city on a hill [that] cannot be hidden" (Matt. 5:14). To "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).  To "[go] therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). Thus, the church is the people of God inviting a broken world into covenant with the triune God through the Gospel message of Christ.


To this end, the church is not a social club nor a public service hall, but rather the people of God on mission in a broken and depraved world. Edmund P. Clowney helpfully writes, "Those united to Christ become stewards in a world over which He is Lord. Sharing the distress of a creation that is not yet delivered from disorder and frustration, they work in hope, anticipating the joy of the new heavens and earth."[11] God is in the business of making a people for Himself. Thus, God has allowed the church—His people—to partner with Him in this great endeavor we call Gospel ministry. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***


[1] This article has been adopted and modified with approval from https://mcyoungyang.blogspot.com/2017/06/god-is-in-business-of-making-people-for.html.


[2] Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Colorado Springs: Paternoster,  2000), 45-46.


[3] G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), 30. 


[4] Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), 158.


[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 17.


[6] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 303. 


[7] Ibid., 392.


[8] Michael S. Horton, Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 188. 


[9] Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2012), 11. 


[10] Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 435.


[11] Edmund P. Clowney, The Church: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 1995), 140. 

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (5).  He is a Teaching Pastors at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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